First anthropology field work experience in the Callejón de Huaylas 1984

T he following is an excerpt from Patricia J. Hammer´s first attempt at ethnography in Carhuaz.

In 1984 I came to Peru from the University of California to study Anthropology at the Catholic University in Lima. Older women in the community warmly received me into the community, stopping to greet me with the traditional pounding on the back form of salutation among kinsmen. Although there were limitations on our initial interactions due to my minimal proficiency in Quechua, communication transpired despite my verbal handicap. Elderly women took the time to pause and chat along the road or in the plaza. Often they told me of health problems they or family members were suffering, asking my diagnosis and whether I could procure medicines to relieve the symptoms.

Within my first few days in Shilla, I arrived at the crossroads in the early morning to see people huddled together against the cold with bundles of goods, waiting for a truck to carry them to market in the provincial capital of Carhuaz. Doña Andrea was sitting across the way on her daughter’s doorstep. She smiled when she saw me and motioned me to approach her. At her invitation I joined the group and closely observed morning socializing. Initially villagers were keenly aware of my presence and much teasing and many states of amazement and curiosity were directed toward me. At this time Doña Andrea protected me in a sense by explaining my presrence to the locals and by openly affiliating with me in the public realm.

Doña Andrea is a well-respected figure in Shilla. She possesses a strong character accompanied by an authoritative demeanor. I spent time with her, assisting her in her daily activities of herding, weaving, washing clothes, shelling corn, etc. She occasionally sought me out in regard to special tasks or emergencies, such as chasing stray rabbits and guinea pigs.

For the following reasons I am inclined to think that Doña Andrea treated me in the manner of an affinal, or potentially affinal relative. Aside from her constant joking that I should marry her three-year-old grandson, my participation with her in carrying out daily chores placed me in a position most often filled by the daughter-in—law. She inquired as to the whereabouts of my mother, and in reaction to the great distance, she remarked on her own temporary separation from her sons, saying, “and here I am missing my son who is only as far away as Huaraz.” In her son’s absence she slept at her daught-inlaw’s house to keep her company. Mirroring the same type of relationship, and showing maternal concern for me, she mentioned that she would like to sleep in the linguist’s adobe house, too, so that I would not have to be alone at night. As is the custom among relatives, upon bringing her animal’s home from pasture, she would drop by and visit me, accompanied by her grandchildren. She nsisted that I accompany her to the plaza during social functions. She was careful to explain to me in Quechua how to perform certain tasks and the purpose of preparatory processes, such as the shelling, sorting and drying of maize for its assorted uses. And, on Mother’s Day she expected a gift from me.

Another older woman who frequently visited me was Doña Paula who lived several houses away towards the plaza. She often came to converse and sell me fresh eggs. She inquired about my intentions in the community and other aspects of my life. Like other older women in the village, Paula initially addressed me as niña, reflecting my unsocialised state. I spoke a minimum of Quechua, did not wear a pollera – the traditional skirt, I was unfamiliar with cultural norms and I was unmarried and childless. All of these aspects may be associated with not yet fully socialised girls. Furthermore, using the term niña distinctly placed me outside the social network of the community, for china is the term most used by older women in referring to young girls.

My naivety of local meanings, evidenced by my behavior, induced people to explain to me commonly understood concepts. For example, an older woman noting my ignorance, explained to me that wandering around alone invites danger to an individual in the way of susto – magical fright, especially in accord with passing by isolated ravines or streams where spirits are known to lurk.

Overall, I would conclude that the interactions I had in Shilla were with certain kinds of individuals who were either marginal in themselves, or with those who had access to peripheral realms, such as village officials and men familiar with the outside world, children as not yet fully socialized beings, as well as older women whose statuses were established and who risked nothing in associating with me. As my time progressed in the community, my status as a young, unmarried woman was confirmed and became the focal point of my interactions. Older women were apparently provoked by my behavior to advise me about proper conduct in accordance with my age and gender, reflecting their expectations of such an individual within the framework of the traditional values of Shilla.

One night during the fiesta de San Juan, in my last days in Shilla, Doña Paula called me over to watch the celebration in front of the town council building. She offered me protection against the cold with her beneath the warmth of her woolen lliklla (woven blanket). When I asked her who the strangers were in the plaza, all highlanders but their faces unfamiliar to me, she replied that they were mishtis – outsiders. I inquiredif I too, was a mishti, to which she replied negatively, and declared with smiling certainty, that I was a shillapina – a woman of Shilla.

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